Tag Archives: chocolate pot

Chocolate as a Symbol of Love through Luxury: From Ancient Mayan Civilization to Today


Chocolate, more so than most foods, carries a sentiment of love and affection when shared with and given to other people, driven by the notion that it can be a luxury. Today, about 83% of people are likely to share candy or chocolate on Valentine’s day, and chocolate sales compile 75% of Valentine’s Day candy purchases (NCA). While it is believed that known chocolate brands (Hershey’s, Dove, etc.) influence our association of chocolate with love and affection (they certainly do to a significant extent), closer analysis suggests that usage of chocolate as a vessel for love and affection may stem from the luxurious nature of cacao in ancient Mesoamerica and chocolate in 17th-18th century Europe and the methods by which these commodities were consumed.

Chocolate as an Affectionate Gift Today

A significant amount of advertisement by chocolate companies frame chocolate as a luxury good that can be given as a gift to show affection towards another person. This advertisement by Perugina (owned by Nestle) highlights the symbol of chocolate as an expression of love for a family member, friend, and partner. The chocolate product advertised in this instance, as in many other, does not even appear until the final few seconds. And, when it does appear, it is given from a man to a woman and eaten in a substantially delicate fashion- the way one would treat anything opulent. This sumptuous branding of chocolate as a delicacy inherently labels it as a worthy gift that shos fondness towards someone. If that aspect is not enough to influence people to think of chocolate as a luxury gift that shows affection to someone, the quote from the advertisement, “The Italian way to say, ‘I love you’” lays out the message pretty clearly, and can be found in many similar messages throughout world chocolate marketing- one needs to only look as far as the product of a Hershey’s ‘Kiss’ or a heart-shaped dove.

Chocolate as a Social Enabler in Ancient Mesoamerica

Opossum God carries Rain God on his back, caption is “cacao is his food [kakaw u hanal].”
Maya marriage rituals included tac haa – roughly translated as “to serve chocolate” or “to invite the father of a girl whom one’s son wants to marry to discuss the marriage and serve him drink”

(Martin, 2018).


Today’s notion of chocolate as a luxury to be shared with others is not new by any means. Ancient Mayans can be seen using cacao in the context of love through marriage rituals. The Mayans associated cacao with their gods and religion- shown in colonial documents such as the Popul Vuh and the Dresden Codex, in which the Opposum God carries the Rain God on its back with the hieroglyphic caption “cacao is his food” (pictured above)(Martin, 2018). The glorification of cacao in these sacred contexts can be seen as the first notion of chocolate, or its origin cacao in this instance, as a luxurious commodity consumed by the powerful. Moreover, it appears as though the depiction of the God’s usage of cacao trickles down to carry social significance for the actual Mayan people. The image above shows their marriage ritual of the father of the groom offering cacao to the father of the bride to invite him to discuss the marriage, providing one of (if not the earliest) known examples connecting chocolate to fostering relationships.

Chocolate as a Luxury in 17th-18th Century Europe

The tradition of chocolate as a meaningful ritual via its opulence continued quickly into the assimilation of chocolate consumption in European culture in the 17th and 18th centuries. Specifically, the development of chocolate pots in Europe and their migration to Boston added to chocolate’s luxurious allure in both places: “fashioned for an elite clientele to serve imported luxury foodstuffs…chocolate pots were among the rarest silver forms in the early eighteenth century) (Falino, 2008). The creation of these pots initially may have been motivated by desire for functionality: “what distinguishes the chocolate pot from the coffee pot is the hole in the top under the swiveling (or hinged) finial that allows for a stirring rod to be inserted and do its work without cooling the drink” (Deitz, 1989). However, the functional appeal does nothing to hide its luxurious nature. In this surviving chocolate pot by Edward Webb, the base and top are decorated with intricate fluted design. These vessels made for the consumption of chocolate were desired only by wealthy merchants and a “succession of royal appointees who had sufficient funds and an appetite for the latest styles” (Deitz, 1989). In a similar fashion to the Mayans, the consumption of Chocolate was ritualized beginning in this rich form with silver pots.


1706-18 Chocolate Pot made by Edward Webb stored in Museum of Fine Arts


The Consumption in Chocolate Houses by Elite Add to the Allure

The development of chocolate houses in 17th-century Europe add to the history of chocolate as a luxury. These houses fostered political discussion and developed what Loveman calls “a separate identity” from coffee-houses. They soon evolved into the venue for parties with other types of drinks and games mostly for gentlemen, while “respectable ladies could call at a chocolate house” (Loveman, 2013). Furthermore, by 1680, a dialogue began during the making of a new chocolate house in Westminister developing the notion that women loved chocolate in a similar fashion that is advertised today (Loveman, 2013). These chocolate houses allowed for the practice of the consumption of chocolate by elites not only confirmed to the nature of chocolate as a luxury but also brought people together because of its appeal.

When people think about Valentine’s Day, they think about chocolate, specifically heart-shaped chocolate, and love. The association with love and affection is influenced by advertisements by chocolate companies today that convince us that chocolate is a delicacy to be shared with others, and they are able to convince us of this belief because of a deeply rooted history of chocolate as a luxury item. From the ancient Mayans believed that cacao was a food of the Gods, to 17th-century European elites using lavish silver pots to drink it, to the silky smooth texture with which they are created today, chocolate has always carried immensely more meaning than the simple ingredients that have combined to create it, allowing us to use it as a symbol for much more than a bit of food.


Works Cited:

“A Baci Chocolate TV Ad Italy “Say It with a Kiss” Valentine’s Day 2010.” YouTube. January 10, 2010. Accessed March 20, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBkBqMZnTVU.

Carla Martin. “Chocolate Expansion.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge. 31 Jan. 2018. Lecture.

“Chocolate Pot.” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. April 06, 2017. Accessed March 20, 2018. http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/chocolate-pot-42519.

Falino, Jeannine, and Gerald W. R. Ward. Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000: American Silver in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston: MFA Publ., 2008.

Kate Loveman; The Introduction of Chocolate into England: Retailers, Researchers, and Consumers, 1640–1730, Journal of Social History, Volume 47, Issue 1, 1 September 2013, Pages 27–46, https://doi-org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/10.1093/jsh/sht050

Marcy Norton; Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics, The American Historical Review, Volume 111, Issue 3, 1 June 2006, Pages 660–691, https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr.111.3.660

Paula Deitz. (1989, February 19). Chocolate Pots Brewed Ingenuity. New York Times (1923-Current File), p. H38.

“Valentine’s Day Central.” NCA. Accessed March 19, 2018. https://www.candyusa.com/life-candy/valentines-day-central/.

From Earthy to Elegant: The Evolution of the Chocolate Pot


Chocolate drinks created from cacao beans date back to the Mesoamericans many centuries ago. In fact, researchers have identified an instance where cacao residue was found on a pottery shard at the archeological site of the  Paso de la Amada village occupied by the Mokaya people dating to 1900 to 1500 BC (Presilla 10). Serving vessels used for the precious chocolate elixir created from cacao have varied over time. As the various ingredients for labor intensive chocolate beverages have evolved, so have the vessels that were blessed with the liquid.

Ancient Barra ceramics- oldest know chocolate vessels (dated to 1900-1500 BC) (Coe and Coe 89)

The early chocolate vessels of the Mesoamerican culture were crafted of ceramics and adorned with colorful designs and hieroglyphics. Specific hieroglyphics offered a hint of Mayan life depicting images that represented parts of their culture. Through scientific analysis, chemist W. Jeffrey Hurst of the Hershey Company determined that both theobromine and caffeine were detected in a jar discovered in a Rio Azul tomb in Guatemala, evidence that cacao had been contained in the vessel (Presilla 9). Cacao is the only Mesoamerican plant that contains both theobromine and caffeine (Coe and Coe 36). In the image below, the hieroglyphic for cacao is labeled on the exterior of the jar, another telltale sign that it contained chocolate at one time (Martin). The clever locking lid on the burial object was an industrious way to keep the sacred chocolate beverage safe and secure. Not only was the vessel sturdy and functional, it also boasts a lovely shape where the lid can be likened to a halo or crown, perhaps worthy of an important person or ruler buried in the tomb.


Chocolate jar with locked-lid found in a Rio Azul tomb, dated to ca. 500 A.D.

Fast forward to 1125 AD and the shape of the vessels appeared to have changed. As pictured in the image below, the jars were taller and cylindrical in nature. Black and white jars attributed to that era found in the New Mexican Pueblo Bonito offer evidence of the influence of the Mesoamericans and their trade between the Toltec merchants (Coe and Coe 55). Archeologist Patricia Crown of the University of New Mexico sought confirmation from W. Jeffrey Hurst that sherds from the cylindrical jars from New Mexican Pueblo Bonito trash mound contained elements of cacao (Coe and Coe 55). Hurst confirmed that the sherds (dating between 1000 and 1125 AD) tested positive for theobromine, sufficient confirmation that the Anasazi elite, ancestors of the Pueblo Indians drank chocolate from these vessels (Coe and Coe 55).



Cylindrical jar from Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon.

Credit: James Garber

As the Spanish invaded Mesoamerica, their influence on the native culture was undeniable and the ritual of chocolate drinking was no exception. In the pre-Conquest days, Mesoamericans raised foam on a chocolate beverage by the simple task of pouring the chocolate beverage from one vessel to another (Coe and Coe 85). In the early 16th century the molinillo, a wooden stick, was used to twirl the liquid to form a foam on the top, a method still used today in some preparations in Mexico and Latin America. However, in the post-Conquest era, vessels that held chocolate beverages changed and spanned a broad range of designs that were both functional and fashionable.

Chocolate was introduced to the United Kingdom  during the third quarter of the 17th century (Mintz 108). At that time, craftsman designed chocolate pots that were appropriate for both the liquid and the elite drinkers.  In addition to ceramic or porcelain, chocolate pots evolved to include pewter, silver and even gold.

18th Century silver British chocolatière

The image above  represents a pot with an adjustable finial that can be removed to allow the insertion of a stirring rod, the British version of a molinillo.  This shiny design is representative of a delicate serving pot that nods to the refined practice of serving chocolate to the British elite.

In contrast to the British pot, the image below represents a design created by Edward Winslow, an 18th century American silversmith from Boston, Massachusetts. Unlike the delicate three legged British pot, Winslow’s handsome pot is constructed with a solid base, perhaps indicative of the sturdiness required of early colonists in the new world.

Chocolate Pot

Early 18th century silver chocolate pot 

If we compare the image of the Barra ceramics in the first image and the last photo of the Winslow chocolate pot, it is hard to believe they were used for the same purpose. The striking difference of the rich warm colors of the rounded ceramic vessels versus the hard cold metal of the 18th century pots are quite opposite and distinct.

Just as the chocolate vessels have evolved over time so has the desire or lack thereof for chocolate beverages. Regardless of the type of chocolate pot, the prominence of drinking chocolate in North America and Europe began to wane at the beginning of the 20th century when solid chocolate first appeared. Chocolate aficionados  seem to prefer the quick fix of a chocolate bar that can satiate chocolate desire without spending time on the ritual and lengthy preparation of a chocolate beverage and need for chocolate pots.

                 Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”.” Harvard University, Cambridge. 1 Feb. 2017. Lecture

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and power : the place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. Print.

Mcgovern, Pat. “RioAzul Chocolate-Pot.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 17 Nov. 2009. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. <https://www.flickr.com/photos/patmcgovern/4113214840/in/photolist-7gtitf&gt;.

Parry, Wynne. “Sweet Trading: Chocolate May Have Linked Prehistoric Civilizations.” LiveScience. Purch, 01 Apr. 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. <http://www.livescience.com/13533-prehistoric-chocolate-trade-cacao-chaco-canyon-puebloans.html&gt;.

Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate : a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Berkeley Calif: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

“Chocolate Pot | Edward Winslow | 33.120.221 | Work of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/33.120.221/&gt;.

Digital image. Chocolate Pot. Wikimedia Commons, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph-Th%C3%A9odore_Van_Cauwenbergh_-_Chocolate_Pot_-_Walters_571802.jpg








A Worldwide Treat: The Increasing Popularity of Chocolate

In Baroque Europe, chocolate was linked with notions of status and class. The elite of Spain, Italy, France, and Britain consumed chocolate in the form of beverages and foods to flaunt their wealth. They used extravagant serving pots, cups, and saucers (like the one below) which demonstrate the importance of material culture during this time period. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, chocolate was popularized across many parts of the world as well as across various socioeconomic groups. The spread of chocolate can be linked to the role chocolate played in social interactions, to the democratization and industrialization of sugar, and to the inventions that made it possible to expand its production and the forms it took.

Silver chocolate pot used for hot chocolate, France, 1779.

When chocolate was first introduced as a medicine around 1100 CE, it was primarily used to cure bodily ailments, to stimulate the nervous system, and to aid in digestion (Dillinger et al., 2000). In the mid-1500s, chocolate became popular among the aristocracy and the wealthy in Europe. The breadwinner in the family was first entitled to meat the family could afford, but women and children consumed chocolate to supplement their scarce portions in order to obtain enough calories. The use of chocolate evolved from a luxury to a commodity as it became tied to social life. The first Chocolate House opened in London in 1657 (Loveman, 29). “Food and drink, not surprisingly, reflected [the] economic, social, and religious cleavages…chocolate was [characterized] as southern and Catholic and aristocratic…” (Coe and Coe, 200). Chocolate acquired new meaning in European countries as its consumption became highly social and symbolic of wealth. As people used chocolate to connect and interact with one another, its consumption took on new meaning, and its previous status as an indulgent good transitioned into a good that became worthy of the expense. Chocolate became more popular, and transitioned from a symbolic form of power to a democratizer as it became more widely available (Mintz, 91).

This photo was taken in 1777, and was likely the oldest surviving pub of Wavertree (which is located in Liverpool).

According to Mintz, “by no later than 1800, sugar had become a necessity – albeit a costly and rare one – in the diet of every English person; by 1900, it was supplying nearly one-fifth of calories in the English diet” (6). Over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the democratization of sugar occurred. Sugar decreased in cost and became easier for commoners to acquire through the use of cheap and brutal skilled labor of enslaved people. While there was opposition to slave labor, it allowed for the price of chocolate to fall. Its production thus expanded, and more commoners were granted access to this commodity. Liverpool and Manchester turned into gigantic cities as a result of “the exchange of their produce with that raised by the American slaves” (Merivale, Lecture 6).

During the nineteenth century, a number of inventions allowed for the further spread of the popularity of chocolate. The series of innovations began with the hydraulic press, invented by Coenraad Johannes Van Houten in 1828, which relieved the labor that was previously needed for grinding cacao. In 1847, Joseph Fry invented the first chocolate bar. A few decades later, Henri Nestle and Daniel Peter created milk chocolate (in 1867 and 1879, respectively). Finally, Rudolphe Lindt implemented the conching process in 1879, which allowed for chocolate to be blended and smoothed (Lecture 5). Through the implementation of these new machines and inventions, the mass production of chocolate became possible, as the taste and consistency of chocolate could be streamlined and managed in large quantities by its producers.

1950 hydraulic press, Wikimedia Commons.

While chocolate was once restricted to the elite in Europe, as it was expensive and inaccessible, it became popular around the world throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. First, chocolate became more widely consumed as a result of its social implications. Later, as consumers demanded chocolate as a necessity (rather than as a luxury good), people were enslaved to increase its production possibilities. Finally, new processes enabled its mass production as it could be streamlined and involved less human and manual labor. As chocolate became less expensive, technologies allowed for its popularity in the form of cakes and chocolate bars. Most recently, chocolate companies have turned to advertising to encourage its further consumption, often overemphasizing its nutritious value in the process.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie Dobzhansky, and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Vol. 29. London: Thames and Hudson, 2007.

Dillinger T.L., Barriga P., Escarcega S., Jimenez M., Salazar Lowe D., Grivetti L.E. Food of the gods: Cure for humanity? A cultural history of the medicinal and ritual use of chocolate. J. Nutr.2000;130:2057–2072.

Loveman, Kate. “The Introduction of Chocolate into England: Retailers, Researchers, and Consumers, 1640–1730.” Journal of Social History (2013): sht050.

Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and power. New York: Viking, 1985.


Chocolate pot: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolatepot.jpg

Coffee House Pub: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Coffee_House_pub,_Wavertree.JPG

Hydraulic press: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Prensa_hidr%C3%A1ulica-Villajoyosa_(chocolate).jpg



The Evolution of the Chocolatière: From French Innovation to Retirement in Museums

As the 16th century cultural exchange between the Old and New World progressed, the consumption of cacao beverages transitioned from being a ritualistic foodstuff among the ancient populations of the Americas to a new, European luxury. It is alleged that in 1606 chocolate was brought to Italy from Spain by a traveler and, from this point on, began to spread to other major European nations such as France (“A Concise History of Chocolate,”). In 1648, France emerged from the Thirty Years’ War and was beginning to enjoy a period of political and economic stability; thus, French citizens had the economic capability and the social curiosity to invest in new luxury trends such as the production and consumption of cacao beverages (Perkins 89).

A traditional French chocolatière pot made of silver and amaranth wood. This pot was made in 1774 by Frenchman Joseph-Thèodore Van Cauwenbergh.

When cacao spread to Europe, the French hybridized ancient Mesoamerican techniques with new and refined values to create a Europeanized production of cacao beverages. A physical result of this hybridization is the chocolatière pot, a French invention that encompassed both efficiency in making and serving the beverage and a sophisticated aesthetic. This pot did more than supply a vessel in which chocolate beverages could be produced and consumed; it created a distinctly French niche within the international chocolate production scene. The French were motivated to making up for their late arrival as participants in the international chocolate industry by fashioning sturdy, sophisticated cookware. Commonly, a traditional chocolatière pot is a pear-shaped vessel made out of metal- usually silver or gold- that features a hinged or removable lid. The lid contains a hole to place the handle of the “moulinet,” which is normally made of wood and is used to rapidly froth the beverage before serving. Although the chocolatière itself was French, it combined the basic shape and idea of ancient Mesoamerican gourd vessels and the wooden frothing instrument of the colonial Spaniards, the molinillo (Perkins 90). The chocolatière experienced a rise in popularity, particularly among the elite and the royal, until its decline and ultimate disappearance from the French household after the Industrial Revolution (Righthand).

The legacy of chocolate in France begins with the marriage between Anne of Austria and Louis XIII in 1615 (Coe and Coe 150). Austria had already been introduced to the chocolate making process and it is likely that chocolate was exchanged as wedding gifts between the newlyweds. France’s earliest, most notable supporter of chocolate products was Alphonse de Richelieu who promoted the consumption of cacao for medicinal purposes (Perkins 90). Chocolate was quickly gaining popularity with the elite- by the start of the reign of Louis XIV in 1643 chocolate was served daily in Versailles. This new trend necessitated innovations for more efficient self-production; resultantly, the French chocolatière was created. Although the origin of the chocolatière is not completely known, Sophie and Michael Coe support the theory that it was a French invention (158). Records show that chocolatières were given as gifts to French royalty from foreign nations in the late 1600s, yet it is hypothesized that the invention predates these records and evidence of such has not been found or preserved (Coe and Coe 158). The first substantial reference to a chocolatière pot is dated to 1671, when Marquise de Sévigné laments about the tragedy of her daughter not having access to a chocolatière (Coe and Coe 154).

“But you do not have a chocolatière; I have thought of it a thousand times; what will you do? Alas, my child, you are not wrong when you believe that I worry about you more than you worry about me,” (Coe and Coe 155).

As chocolate gained popularity, the chocolatière pot was mentioned in most chocolate-related literature for the rest of the 16th and 17th centuries. Some of the most notable works include Nicolas Blégny’s 1687 work of Le bon usage du thé, du cafféet du chocolat and François Massaliote’s Nouvelle Instruction pour les Confitures, le Liqueurs, et les Fruits in 1734  (Perkins 90-92). The pot became a physical symbol of France’s involvement in this international trend.

But by the end of the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, chocolate production practices had began to change and progress. Chocolate became a more widely available product and small volume production equipment such as the chocolatière was becoming less desired. In 1828, the cocoa press was invented by Conrad Johannes Van Houton (Righthand). The press allowed for quick production of cocoa powder which could easily be mixed with water to create chocolate beverages- thus, the

One of the most famous pieces of art that features chocolatières and chocolate serving table pieces is “Le Dejeuner,” by François Boucher.  A viewer can notice the chocolatière pot featured in the center background of the piece.

chocolatière pot was becoming archaic in the presence of the new technology. By the conclusion of the 19th century, new technology had revolutionized chocolate manufacturing and lessened the demand for the chocolatière pot.

The 19th and 20th centuries experienced the disappearance of chocolatières due to their low demand; however, an increased interest in antiquities for gift giving is fostering a revival of the pots. Traditional chocolatières and any associated artwork are now popular attractions in museums and pricey investments in modern antique shops.

Here is an interactive “exploration,” of a traditional chocolatière pot held in the Walters Art Museum. The animation only allows the viewer to zoom in/out but it has clear quality for observing details such as lid engravings: http://art.thewalters.org/detail/5934/chocolate-pot/



Works Cited:

“A Concise History of Chocolate.” C-Spot. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

Boucher, François. “Le Dejeuner.” 1739. Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Perkins, Suzanne, Grivetti, Louis, Yana Shapiro, Howard. “Introduction: The Chocolatière and the Refinement of Aristocratic Manners in Early Modern France.” Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2009. Print.

Righthand, Jess. “A Brief History of the Chocolate Pot.” History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places | Smithsonian. Smithsonian Magazine. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.